Noe Valley is a neighborhood of contradictions. It's home to both liberals and conservatives, it has attracted the working class, dot.com millionaires, Hollywood film crews ("Sister Act," "Nash Bridges"), and, in the 1970s, followers of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Recent problems with storefront vandalism stand in sharp contrast to Noe's clean-cut image and the fact that it's chock full of upscale restaurants, home-decor boutiques, and chic clothing shops. Since the dot.com boom began waning, housing prices have dipped slightly and there has been some turnover on the main shopping drag, but it remains a prosperous, shopper-friendly neighborhood whose bistros, coffee shops, and bookstores are always lively, and where parking is always at a premium.
The hills that surround Noe Valley give it an air of remoteness and removal from the city which, along with the plethora of pretty, long-standing Victorians, is what attracts families with kids, dogs and strollers to the neighborhood. This, in turn, has attracted merchants who cater to those looking for handmade Guatemalan textile products, upscale beauty products, or Eileen Fisher ensembles.
Some residents have grumbled that Noe Valley has become a great place to have coffee and a bagel but a terrible place to buy what you actually need if you're lucky enough to live there. Others joke about Noe Valley's mammoth stroller population and bourgeois sensibilities; columnist Debby Morse once quipped in the Examiner, "Many Noe Valley walkers push babies in strollers, often using them as battering rams in crowded situations."
One thing's for sure -- Noe Valleyans enjoy their neighborhood -- especially on weekends, if the dense foot traffic on 24th Street is any indication.
24th Street Cheese Company: The friendly folks behind the counter will give you samples of the world's greatest cheeses until you're bleu in the face. You can also buy fondue sets or rent a raclette set to do cheese the Swiss or Savoie way. The shop stocks an impressive array of European groceries: breads, crackers, oils, olives, munchables, and wines as well. 3893 24th St., (415) 821-6658.
Astrid's Rabat Shoes for Men and Women: Astrid's has a wide range of tasteful, understated and comfortable shoes, sandals, clogs and boots from Naot, Ecco, Frye, Blundstone and other designers. The store also carries Dansko Danish clogs, the most comfortable things you'll ever put on your feet. 3909 24th St. (at Sanchez Street), (415) 282-7400.
Cottage Industry: Soaps, incense, jewelry, clothing, wood products, beads, home decorations, and other imported goods from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. 4068 24th St. (between Castro and Noe), (415) 821-2465.
Cover to Cover: A carefully-selected array of fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, classics, children's books, and travel books are displayed beautifully and described artfully by a very knowledgeable staff. 1307 Castro St. (at 24th), (415) 282-8080.
Echo Furniture: Though the home and garden shop is no more, the furniture remains: Home furnishings in subdued earth tones (think celadon, eggplant and chocolate) characterize this plush shop just off Church Street. Styles vary from rustic country pine to faux Pottery Barn. 3775 24th St. (at Church Street), (415) 282-3330.
Elisa's Beauty & Health Spa: Not far from the 24th Street bustle, you'll find indoor and outdoor hot tubs and saunas available by the hour, with special discounts if you come in before 3 pm. Elisa's also offers facials, waxing, body wraps and Shiatsu, Swedish or deep-tissue massage. 4028 24th St., (415) 821-6727.
Global Exchange: Goods imported from Latin and South America, Africa and Asia are featured here, and Global Exchange is not just a store, but a foundation that employs and pays fair wages to small producer groups and farming collectives. Crafts, bags, jewelry, decorative items, knickknacks and toys made of wood or other natural materials are the store's specialty. 4018 24th St. (at Noe Street), (415) 648-8068.
Guys and Dolls: It's hard to figure out why this shop cropped up in Noe Valley, unless there's a crowd of closet swing dancers in the neighborhood. Wares here include pristine, perfectly pressed vintage gabardine and rayon suits, dresses, shirts and trousers dating from the '20s to the '60s for men and women. 3789 24th St. (at Church Street), (415) 285-7174.
Isa's Salon and Day Spa: In their expanded digs on Castro Street, Isa's offers high-end beauty products and services: waxing, wraps, facials, sunless tanning treatments, haircuts and haircoloring. They also offer Swedish, Shiatsu, and the very inviting-sounding "hot rocks" massage, in which the therapist strategically places warm stones on your body to relax you. 1401 Castro St. (at Jersey Street), (415) 641-8948.
Just for Fun/Scribbledoodles: This popular gift shop on 24th Street is home to many classic and kitschy gift items, including a variety of magnetic poetry sets, bridal shower games kits, board games, whimsical gifts to spoil pets or pet owners (both of whom often roam the shop) and pretty boxes of Crane's stationery. There's also a seductive toy section full of both educational toys and the kind you played with when you were a kid. 3982 24th St. (at Noe Street), (415) 285-4068.
Noe Valley Bakery & Bread Company: There's hardly a better place in the city to get hooked on baked goods. You'll circle the block for parking a hundred times or walk all the way from West Portal to satisfy your craving for their cherry-chocolate bread, tart dried cherry and coconut scones, moist blueberry-pecan scones, or a beautiful loaf of crusty white. 4073 24th St., (415) 550-1405.
Noe Valley Farmers' Market: Local organic farmers sell fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey on Saturdays from 8 a.m. 'til Noon, rain or shine. Live bluegrass music, plus information about organic, sustainable farming and updates on the market on 24th St.. In the New Noe Valley Ministry parking lot, at 24th Street between Vicksburg and Sanchez.
Noe Valley Pet Company: This well-appointed pet accessory and food store also offers low-cost dog and cat vaccinations, runs a dog-walking service and consistently contributes to the community, particularly by sponsoring local cultural events and hosting treat tastings on the last Thursday of each month. Fortunately, the place encourages human visitors to socialize and drink wine instead of chow on doggie biscuits. 1451 Church St. (at Cesar Chavez Street), (415) 282-7385.
Peek-a-Bootique: A practical concept -- secondhand baby and children's clothing and toys -- in seriously strollerful Noe Valley. You probably will find BabyGap, Old Navy, and other popular labels, sized for preemies to 10-year-olds. If you're really lucky, you'll find shoes, a T-shirt, or a jacket that Junior outgrew before he even had a chance to wear. 1306 Castro St. (at 24th Street), (415) 641-6192.
Phoenix Books: Phoenix's collection of used and new books is well organized, reasonably priced and eclectic, plus somewhat lopsided toward fiction and art books. The section on Eastern and Western philosophy and religion is larger than you'd expect, but maybe this is where the neighborhood's ex-hippies unload the spoils of their spirituality phases. 3850 24th St. (at Vicksburg Street), (415) 821-3477.
Rabat: The windows of this shop, which houses its shoe selection next door, are full of fashionable urban ware (mostly for women) and hip shoes from Giraudon and Camper. It also sells beautiful scarves, bags and accessories. 4001/4005 24th St. (at Noe Street), (415) 282-7861.
See Jane Run Sports: See Jane Run has athletic apparel, shoes and sporty gear in petite to plus sizes. You don't have to be an athlete to appreciate the selection or the fact that the store contributes to women's sports through a nonprofit foundation. 3910 24th St. (415) 401-8338.)
Although Noe Valley boasts a plethora of delectable eateries, the best way to absorb the neighborhood is to grab a cuppa joe at Martha and Brothers, a coconut/dried-cherry scone from Noe Valley Baking Company and a piece of sunny sidewalk. If you're visiting during a workday, you may wonder whether anyone in this area has a day job -- the sidewalks bustle from dawn to dusk. Watch out for double-wide strollers and packs of golden retrievers!
Alice's: Tasty, cheap, high-quality Chinese food. 1599 Sanchez Street, (415) 282-8999.
Amberjack Sushi: This is a neighborhood sushi joint in attractive, bright quarters on Church Street featureing sushi, sashimi and a broad selection of maki at moderate prices. Take a table, or sit at the cozy sushi bar and enjoy all the blond wood. 1497 Church St. (at 27th Street), (415) 920-1797.
Barney's: Few in San Francisco will admit to craving hamburgers, but those who do will want to seek out Barney's for fat burgers with more toppings than you can shake a french fry at. You can take your beef to go or use the spacious dining room or the outdoor patio. 4138 24th St., (415) 282-7770.
Eric's: A long-time neighborhood favorite, Eric's serves up dependable, Americanized versions of classic Hunan and Mandarin dishes in a lovely Victorian storefront. Popular house specials include the savory-sweet mango prawns served on a bed of crunchy red cabbage and General Tso's chicken. Good vegetarian options include the spicy smoked bean curd and eggplant with spicy garlic sauce. (-SF Chronicle) 1500 Church St. (at 27th Street), (415) 282-0919.
Belgano: All the usual Ciao Bella favorites are available at this gelateria, plus a few neighborhood-specific milkshakes, such as the Dolores, featuring green tea and vanilla gelato. Servers offer lots of samples, and even advise on the best way to combine trickier flavors such as such as riso and dulce de leche. Chocoholics can try the store's Leonidas Belgian chocolates and truffles. (-SF Chronicle) 3901 24th St., (415) 647-4266.
Firefly: If only we could all have such a fine eatery in our neighborhood. Foodies come from miles around to sample Firefly's menus, which feature Asian, Polynesian, Mediterranean, and California cuisine-inspired takes on Sonoma lamb, Niman Ranch beef, sea bass or mahi mahi--but check in often, as the menu varies constantly--you may even find they're serving up some good old fashioned homestyle cooking like scalloped potatoes or beef brisket. Even the vegetarian fare is fit for a king. 4288 24th St. (at Douglass Street), (415) 821-7652.
Fresca: This third, family-owned, San Francisco branch of Peruvian restaurant Fresca has a raw bar and a greater focus on ceviche and oysters. The menu includes classics like adobo de chancho (braised pork) as well as updated dishes such as soy-marinated grouper tacu-tacu (beans and rice) with drizzles of ponzu and strawberry sauces. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 3945 24th St. (between Noe and Sanchez), (415) 695-0549.
Hamano Sushi: Really fresh nigiri with Toro (succulent tuna), Hamachi (yellowtail), Anago (sea eel), and filling sushi rolls, including the "Dynamite Roll," which is packed with spicy squid, avocado, burdock root and shiso leaf and topped with Albacore tuna. There are also non-sushi entrees including grilled unagi and salmon teriyaki. 1332 Castro St. (at 24th Street), (415) 826-0825.
Incanto: One of the best, most charming neighborhood Italian restaurants in the city, with a decor and interior that befit a destination restaurant. The daily changing menu includes light and lively starters. Main courses, such as slow cooked pork, are deep in flavor. Diners are offered sparkling or still water at no charge. The restaurant's herbs are from its 1,000-square-foot rooftop herb garden. (--SF Chronicle) 1550 Church (at Duncan Street), (415) 641-4500.
Le Zinc: Voila! Here it is, Noe Valley's own French bistro, complete with prix-fixe menu, zinc-topped bar, menus written on chalkboards, escargot, moules (mussels), pruneaux et bacon (prunes wrapped in bacon), crepes (with a North African twist) and other classic French bistro fare. Tapas, served from 2:30-6:30, include salad with warm camembert, Rillettes de porc, and a nice cheese plate. On weekends, try the prix fixe breakfast, and in the fall, get a glass of the Beaujolais Nouveau and pretend you're at Polidor in the Latin Quarter. 4063 24th St. (at Castro Street), (415) 647-9400.
Lovejoy's Tea Room: One of the only things the British have brought to cuisine is the perfect pot of tea, and at Lovejoy's you can taste the results. Sit back on a cozy couch with a tooth-meltingly strong pot of Yorkshire Gold, scones with clotted cream and little cucumber or smoked-salmon sandwiches with the crusts cut off. 1195 Church St. (at Clipper Street), (415) 648-5895.
Lupa: A true neighborhood Roman-style trattoria, Lupa has friendly service, good Roman-style food, a cozy interior and reasonable prices. Try the bruschetta with fava beans, the fennel and artichoke salad or the tortelloni with creamy mascarpone sauce; finish with a creamy lemon tart. (-SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 4109 24th St. (near Castro),(415) 282-5872.
Pomelo: Your first glance at the multiethnic menu may give you the unsettling feeling that you're about to go on a culinary roller-coaster ride. But Pomelo pulls off its global approach with satisfying salads, soups and noodle and rice dishes. Brunch also has a round-the-world menu, with items like huevo rancheros, frittata and gazpacho. (-SF Chronicle) 1793 Church St. (at 30th Street); (415) 285-2257.
Noe Valley wasn't known for its nightlife, but that may change as locals start swarming to hip neighborhood bars, and discover that parking is easy as pie on 24th Street -- after 8 PM, that is. The following spots buzz 'til closing on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bliss Bar: Bliss is hip and attractive enough to have been featured in In Style magazine. Enjoy the maroon leather booths or the sexy lighting in the back lounge behind the chain-link fence. Happy hour is 5-9 pm weeknights. 4026 24th St. (at Noe Street), (415) 826-6200.
The Dubliner: Classic Irish pub with nice-but-not-pretentious polished-wood decor, relaxed sports-bar atmosphere, well-ventilated front smoking porch, and lively clientele. Naturally, the Dubliner also has a great selection of imported beers. It's common to meet a small horde of Irish expats here, so you know the craic is real. 3838 24th St. (at Church Street), (415) 826-2279.
Noe Valley Ministry: This community landmark hosts a Presbyterian church, Irish dancing classes, martial arts and Feldenkrais, AA meetings and, best of all, top-notch comedy, jazz, folk, world music and alt-rock artists. Omar Sosa, Joan Baez, Vic Chestnutt, Utah Phillips and Marga Gomez have all graced the stage in past years. 1021 Sanchez Street, (415) 454-5238